There was one thing I really liked about my last day job.
I spent three years as a security guard here in Portland. Sometimes, it drove me up the wall — especially after I started working as a professional comics writer, while still working a couple days a week in security. But there was one really nice thing about that job: At the end of each shift, I was done. That was all. I was finished, I could go home, change out of my uniform, and do whatever I wanted — until the next shift.
Comics, see, isn’t like that. Like a lot of jobs, working as a security guard is about putting in the hours they ask you. But comics is a job about completion. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in, whether it’s four or forty — as long as you finish and file your work. If you blew a deadline, it doesn’t matter if you just spent 20 straight hours working on it. You blew your deadline.
And if time management and completing tasks doesn’t come naturally to you? That’s a challenge.
The last few months, I’ve done a lot of troubleshooting to try to be more on the ball with my comics work. I’ve tried a lot of things, from different work/life balances to getting prescribed medication for my ADHD. But the most helpful thing I’ve found so far is also the simplest. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
In Pomodoro Technique, you break your work time up into 25 minute chunks (“pomodori”). And while you’re working, that’s all you do — you choose one task, and you do nothing but work on it until either you finish or your timer goes off. Then when each pomodori ends, you take a short break — 3-5 minutes. That break is when you do everything that’s not work: Look at your texts, check your email, use the bathroom, eat a snack, refill your water, stretch your back. Then you do another pomodori, another 25 mintues. Every four pomodori (appox. two hours) is called a “set.” At the end of each “set” you take a longer break — 15-30 minutes. The idea is to get you to just focus on one task at a time — while taking regular breaks to let your mind and body recover.
(What’s with the weird name? “Pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian. The guy who came up with the technique named it after the timer he used for it, which was shaped like a tomato.)
I first heard about Pomodoro from Justin Jordan, who swore by it. I didn’t bother trying it until recently, after Jeremy Barlow also vouched for it. I tried it for the first time — and was shocked at how much work I got done. I was also shocked about how much easier it was for me to get work done when I was just focusing on one thing at a time, and taking frequent breaks. The breaks really help. So does the shortness of each “pomodori.” Saying “I’m going to revise this script” can be intimidating. Saying “I’m going to revise this script — for the next 25 minutes, then take a five minute break” is way less so. The work time involved is manageable, and the breaks are a nice little “treat” at the end of each one. Plus, it helps me quantify how much time I’m spending on tasks. I record the time that I start each pomodori, and write down the overall task I was working on. Then at the end of the day or week, I can go back and calculate exactly how much time I spend, say, working on scripts versus doing promotional stuff.
Another thing that’s nice about Pomodoro is it helps you avoid Computer Vision Syndrome. CVS is what you get when you focus your eyes on a computer for too long: Blurred vision, neck pain, headaches, eye strain, double vision, etc. To avoid CVS doctors recommend that for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a computer, you then spend 20 seconds focusing on something else. So doing Pomodoro, with set breaks from your work every 25 minutes, is good for keeping you from getting CVS. (My eyes have certainly been a lot less blurry since I started.)
Pomodoro’s also been easy to combine with the internet-blocking apps I use when I’m working. I use Freedom for when I want to turn the internet off entirely, and Antisocial for when I just want to block specific sites. With both apps, you set how many minutes you want them to be active. So I commonly set them for 25 minutes, and use them as the timers for my pomodori.
Photo from the Pomodoro Technique website